True Story Showcases Terrific Acting, Flaccid Storytelling

True Story is so bizarre, so incredibly incomprehensible, it must be… well, the title says it all. It is the tale of a man who is accused of brutally murdering his entire family, fleeing to Mexico where he is quickly arrested, and telling authorities he is someone else. That someone else just so happens to be a New York Times journalist who has recently been fired and subsequently shamed. This head-scratching confluence of events brings these two men together, where secrets and obsessions show their face, but are never fully explored. True Story is fascinating mostly because of everything that is given the narrative ahead of time; what is done with said narrative sometimes misses the mark.

James Franco is Christian Longo, the accused. A seemingly normal, intelligent man (aren’t they all), Longo allegedly murders his wife and three children one night in ways that are shocking to say the least, then flees to Cancun where he is arrested by the FBI while in the company of a young German tourist. He tells the arresting officers, casually, that his name is Mike Finkel and he works for The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the real Finkel, played by Jonah Hill, is fighting his own issues at work. Finkel is accused of confusing a human interest story, combining many stories into one in order to sensationalize. There are moral implications for his actions and he fights for what he did in the story, but it is for naught. Finkel is fired and returns home to Montana to live with his wife, Jill (Felicity Jones), in their cabin while he works feverishly to find new work and reclaim his credibility. When he gets a call from an Oregon reporter telling him the story of Christian Longo, Finkel believes redemption may have fallen n his lap, albeit in an unbelievable way.

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Finkel visits Longo in prison immediately, setting in motion a second act of meetings and veiled discussions that grow repetitive. Finkel cannot figure out what to make of Longo, and Longo isn’t helping. Franco plays Longo as shifty and secretive, never letting Finkel in all the way, but never pushing him too far. They make a pact: Longo will give him details, enough to sell a book to Harper Collins, and Finkel will teach him how to be an effective writer.

The psychological dance these two people engage in has the potential to be infinitely fascinating, at there are times when small twists and turns thicken the plot. But overall, director Rupert Goold keeps things at face value. It’s almost as if the story would be better served in a Dateline piece (which it may have been at some point) because we could have had interviews from the real players in the story instead of a dramatic interpretation. The drama doesn’t feel as urgent as the truth, even though the title of the film suggests otherwise. Something was lost in translation.

Franco and Hill hit all the right notes with their characters, at least the notes on the page of music they are given. The final act of True Story has some curious moments, namely an interaction between Longo and Jones’ Jill, who had been sorely underutilized to this point, that feels entirely out of place. It has the potential to be a powerful moment, but coming out of absolutely nowhere the moment never has the steam to deliver the punch it desires. Much like the film itself, the moment could have been better if a little more development were put in place.

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.